Finding out about the syndrome of The Lost Child as a very real “psychology dynamic” within families was BIG for me just the other day (there’s an excellent short video on the topic by Heidi Priebe if this rings any bells, as it did for me). It ticks all the boxes for how I have always felt in my particular family dynamic and well into the core themes of my adult life and, not only that, I seem to have shared my childhood with one each of the other “types”, the Golden Child, the Hero and the Scapegoat, amongst my siblings, making us the textbook family unit. How archetypal is that!
That title The Lost Child sounds rather forlorne and it is (but there was absolutely no hesitation in me identifying myself with it when I heard it mentioned in an article…I can recall a time when I thought of myself as the Little Match Girl, always stood in the cold, peering in at a misted window to see the golden gathering around the Christmas tree from which I felt excluded…what a thing to have sat there at the core of your psyche). What I now see is that I had to loose myself in order to find myself. I mean REALLY find myself, which is the ongoing work of my life.
This theme sheds light on the importance of a key “trauma” of my childhood. I had a teddy from which I was utterly inseperable for years, taking him everywhere, constantly making him safe (in various carrying devices of my own inventing) in order to establish my own feeling of safety, especially when we went out in the world, but who was lost from the carrier on the back of my bicycle when I was 8 years old. It rocked my world, coinciding with a significant loss of confidence at school and in general.
What I now realise is that I had to loose Barnaby at such a key stage of my development (which the age of 8 really is, as children start to formulate who they are relative to others and the world at large) in order to reflect back at myself this integral state of “lostness”. The fact this trauma only thew me more deeply into a state of feeling so very lost and alone was perhaps the hardest route I could have taken in one so young, but it sure as anything “grew me” over the next few decades. We have to first lose something in order to find it, and I needed to be able to see my own sense of loss by staring it directly in the face, in order to start work on it. Its a universal quest; one that takes all things that exist in matter away from their source so that they can explore that state of oppositeness and separation on the way to realising all the ways they were never really anything except connected and whole.
Diving the theme so concertedly over losing one so twinned with who I felt myself to be became a foundational trauma for the next few decades. Don’t laugh as I describe myself as somehow “twinned” or intrinsically partnered with a stuffed toy…autistic children often form far stronger than average bonds with inanimate objects, often but not always stuffed toys, sometimes remaining deeply bonded with them well into adulthood (see this exploration of the topic by asperger blogger Aoife) and I have continued to form relationships with stuffed toys all my life, as does my husband (we do it together and form a family unit with various stuffed members in our household, ostensibly tongue in cheek but if anything should ever happen to our doppelgängers, who travel everywhere with us, we would be utterly distraught). When I lost Barnaby, I began some really important work on my own state of “lostness” and it was mirrored back at me through all my angst and rumination about where could he be, what had happened to him, why did nobody seem to care or relate..? I cared, and often wondered about him, even many years later.
Flipping those questions around, some hardly gleaned subconscious part of me was asking those very same questions about myself…what had happened to me, why did nobody seem to care or relate…and where was I now? Gradually, as those questions surfaced, they became my deep inner-work and they helped to walk me back towards my own sense of wholeness. At the point I was able to say with feeling “I have refound some important part of myself” I met my human teddy bear stand-in and recognised him on first sight (the bear-reference is an in-joke between my husband and I but let’s just say I never use his real name, he is variably Teddy or Bear to me). We have kidded many times that he is in fact Barnaby returned, dusted off and grown-up, with hardly a scar. The thing is, he is not my missing part but, rather, he reflects back to me my own intrinsic state of wholeness. No other person has ever, more consistently, reasserted and validated my wholeness in every moment, regardless of whatever transitory state of physical, mental or emotional health I happen to be in (not that I tend to need actual validation of wholeness any more, except in my most vulnerable or forgetful moments).
Meanwhile, as written about more than once this last year or so, I have been playing with time travel through listening to music from times when I felt most happy and whole in my life. When we listen to music, or revisit hobbies and interests, from earlier times in our lives we awaken body memories which are real and visceral in our present state of being and this can be useful as well as extremely powerful when the present times prove hard to stay immersed in all the time.
Discovering a particularly happy place recently in the music of Chirstmas ’75 (not all of it “Christmas” music but all music remembered from around that time) I find myself wondering if there was still something more “intact” about me that year, compared to subsequent years. I would have been 7 and the real hard-core bullying at school was yet to start plus it was before some other things happened to grow-me-up and unsettle me at home. Key is that, when I listen to certain songs, some of then not really heard very much or even at all since those times (the wonders of a child’s memory paired with the internet), its as though I can capture the visceral sensations of the star-eyed christmas child that I once was, like a rarified quality hovering in the air (like the musty smell of old Chistmas decorations can take you straight back in time…). It can give me the most tangible flashbacks to that earlier version of myself, like I am momentarily “there”. Most of all, I can draw to me the feeling of being utterly safe, cosy and even coddled in Christmas-ness. Perhaps it was the year before my brother broke it to me that Santa doesn’t really exist and it was all “a great big lie” because something changed after that…and I fell deeper into a sense of losing myself and also, interestingly, into the game of trying to pretend I was more like everyone else in order to fit in. That’s a lifelong game I am still busily unpicking!
This isn’t all about autism but I see how my autism has taken me more deeply into the journey of it. The loss of “Christmas Magic” is something that scars many more of us than our adult-version would care to admit. Hallmark movies rely on it…as does our shopping economy…all fuelled by the tireless search for Christmas magic.
Perhaps this is one of the many gifts of autism; we just know, in the most visceral and obvious way, that everything we experience is really about ourselves. We are the universe we live in and everything “going on” inside and out is simply relative to the workings of our consciousness. This is where we make the changes, do the real work, heal the “unhealable” and fill all those gaps and absences to become whole. If something feels missing this Christmas then really, once again, the lost element is an insider job. We are the magic we believe to be lost and our capacity to glean magic in the everyday the very portal to it. Just like our ability to feel valid, worthy, safe and intact, in the most unconditional ways, is the route to our very wholeness. When we find these things lead back into ourselves, we rediscover everything we ever thought to be lost “out there”…and that is just the beginning to a far happier New Year.
Christmas blessings and warmest wishes for the New Year from me and my Bear…here’s a self-portrait of us both finished just today (painting it has been an excercise in gratitude), the paint still slightly wet on our smiles.